Saturday, September 5, 2009

How Much Can We Steal From Africa and Call it Aid?

HIV/Aids, TB and Malaria, sometimes called the 'big three' diseases, receive amounts of money way out of proportion to the number of people affected by them. Neglected tropical diseases (NTD) affect more than 500 million people in Sub-Saharan Africa; that's more than half the entire population of the African continent.

But the thing about the big three is that they require a lot of research, a lot of money and a lot of work just to reduce the massive burden they represent. Whereas, NTDs are mostly caused by parasites and can be prevented and treated easily and cheaply. It is estimated that $200-400 million a year over five years could reduce NTDs significantly.

You think a few billion dollars is a lot of money? Well the determinants of all these NTDs, along with TB, malaria and, to some extent, HIV/Aids are environmental. They relate to people's physical environments, especially water, sanitation, food and food security, housing, air quality, etc.

Compare this few billion dollars to the plans to invest around $80 billion in hydroelectric power in the Democratic Republic of Congo. Investors will only be interested in this project if some of the electricity generated will go to Europe. What a surprise. And some of the money going into this project will be aid money. Some will be public money from other sources but the 'private' money involved will only be available, you can be sure, if it is guaranteed to make a return.

Bear in mind also a $400 billion scheme to supply solar electricity to Europe, generated in African countries. And the hundreds of billions of dollars worth of oil, gas and other natural resources extracted from other African countries every year. The amount needed to reduce NTDs and even the 'big three' is puny in comparison.

Ironic as it may seem, many of the NTDs are caused by parasites that thrive in hydroelectric dams; these are ecological disasters and this has been recognised for decades. For how long can we pretend that these expensive projects are for the benefit of Africans when they clearly are not? And for how long can we refuse to attend to programmes that could benefit the whole continent of Africa?

Good water and sanitation, food security and other basic benefits are the way forward for development, not the continued extraction of the continent's wealth at the expense of its people.



Claire R said...

Hmm, I wonder whether actually developing Africa to become an equal partner in trade will make a lot of people a lot of money? I'm thinking along the lines of can we get a purely economic argument to raise the standard of living to that of the west. Purely economic arguments are perhaps missing the point though.

Simon said...

Hi Claire
Well so far, the West seems to do everything in its power to prevent developing countries from raising its standards even a small amount. Rich countries see trade as their prerogative and as for equal partners, capitalism doesn't do equal partners. Yes, I think purely economic arguments miss the point, any point.